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Teacher’s School Activity Encouraging Students To Share Their Emotional Baggage Brings Class to Tears

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  • It’s back to school and English teacher Karen Wunderlich Loewe just had the perfect activity.
  • Her emotional baggage activity encourages students to let it all out.
  • Everyone was moved to tears but some think her activity is actually counterproductive.

Going back to school after a long break in the summer can be exciting for many. For some, it’s dreadful, especially when something is bothering them form deep inside. One teacher in Oklahoma wanted to address that and that’s what she just did last week when her 7th and 8th graders showed up to school.

Karen Wunderlich Loewe has gone viral after she posted about her school activity, which encouraged her young pupils to let it all out, whatever emotional baggage they have. This activity has moved the whole class to tears.

Karen asked her students to write down all the problems they’re dealing with on a piece of paper.

The students were told to write on the paper anonymously so they can have the courage they want to share with the class their emotional baggage. The students would then crumple their paper and put it and throw it across the room.

Each student should pick up any piece of paper and read the content to the whole class. Everyone learned what others’ problems were. There were students who had contemplated suicide, dealing with the grief of a pet’s passing and even struggling with their parents’ divorce.

Once someone finished reading a piece of paper, the English teacher would then ask the class who owned that note. Students had a choice of admitting or not. Many of them did and ended up sharing their stories with the entire class.

Everyone was moved to tears.

It was an emotionally draining activity but Karen believes that her activity will inspire the kids to “judge a little less, love a little more, and forgive a little faster.” After the activity, Karen told her students to put the paper inside the bag hanging by the door.

This should remind the young minds that everyone is struggling with something. While everyone is going through hard times differently, they should leave their problems out the door and enjoy learning. Karen’s post on social media was shared over 370K times and received heartwarming comments. 

While many see this as an act of good faith and a feel-good story, some think this will just open up wounds of trauma. One, in particular, is researcher Addison Duane, who, as a trauma-informed teacher, said that research suggests asking students to share with everyone and relive traumatic situations is actually counterproductive. Read Duane’s post below.

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There's a picture floating around where students write down something they're struggling with, crumble it up, and have another student find and read it. Some students shared struggles about school and others provided information about incarcerated family members, drugs, death, and more. This activity, though well-intentioned I'm sure, does more harm than good and I'd like to explain why. It's not our job to ask students to share intimate details about their lives (especially this early in the year). As much as we want to be everything for our kids, teachers are not licensed practitioners and it's important we remember that. Research has found that asking students to relive traumatic events or emotional moments during the school day can exacerbate a problem. The student may not give off any outward indication but the internal effects, according to doctors, are long-lasting. In fact, child advocacy centers are explicitly trained in not asking a child for a traumatic story more than once, to avoid further traumatizing. Asking students to share their traumatic experiences with us is just as bad as giving out ACEs questionnaires. Exact same idea, just a slightly different approach. The goal of these activities is to help foster empathy. But let's be clear: we are doing the exact opposite if we are asking students to share something they're struggling with, and then turn it into a craft to remind us "we all have baggage" or "be kind because everyone is fighting a battle". Putting struggles on display like that is counterproductive in more ways than one. Teaching empathy is tough. We want kids to be kind, to understand the struggles of others, to make fun of each other less and to love a little more. But asking students to divulge the intricate details of their personal lives for the sake of establishing shared understanding is not how we do it. This week, I’ll share some ideas for how to teach empathy, but for now I want to leave you with the food for thought about. Know that this comes from a research-based desire to do better for our kids as I will continue to share learnings and empirical data to support 💛

A post shared by Ms. Duane (@msduane) on

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